Ag Sector Council 6th Anniversary: How It All Started
This post was written by Zachary Baquet and Julie MacCartee, Knowledge Management Specialists at the USAID Bureau for Food Security. Zachary and Julie manage and facilitate the Ag Sector Council Seminar Series with the support of the Feed the Future Knowledge-Driven Agricultural Development (KDAD) project.
As the Ag Sector Council Seminar Series begins its seventh year, we are taking a look back at how the series has evolved. If you would like to learn about how the series came to be and how our attendance has grown, please read on!
What is the origin of Ag Sector Council events?
The name “Ag Sector Council” has a longer history than you might realize. The original USAID Agriculture Sector Council formed in the mid-1980s to provide senior leadership in the Agency with a forum for advocacy, agenda setting, priority setting and coordination for agriculture sector activities within USAID. Over time, the Council expanded its membership to include all staff interested in agriculture and functioned as a forum for discussions on activities in agricultural development until the early 2000s. The Director of the former Office of Agriculture in the former Bureau of Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade (EGAT) chaired Council meetings, which took place the second Wednesday of every month.
In December 2008, the former Office of Agriculture (soon to become the Bureau for Food Security) held a retreat at which they prioritized a re-boot of the Ag Sector Council. Thus, in February 2009, the first, modern USAID Ag Sector Council seminar took place. John Mellor, former Chief Economist for USAID, gave a talk titled “Radical Change in Foreign Aid to Afghanistan: A Chance for Success.” As part of the new vision of the Ag Sector Council, the office began to open the seminar series to a wider audience that included academia, the private sector, civil society and others, in addition to USAID staff. Originally a USAID internal series, Ag Sector Council has expanded to become an event that draws participants from around the globe.
How has attendance changed with time?
Although the rebooted seminar series was open to the public, the early seminars did not instantly draw a large crowd. Personal invitations and basic email advertisements slowly drove an increase in attendance. The early events were in-person only, as webinar technology had not yet become commonplace.
In March 2010, the Ag Sector Council team held its first webinar to allow remote participants to join in. At that first webinar, we had 13 people join us online, and none asked a question. Over the course of five years, our webinar audience has steadily grown and has become an essential part of the dialogue. Today, webinar participants consistently out-number in-person participants; we often have over 100 of you joining any given Ag Sector Council webinar from every continent but Antarctica.
The following graph shows total Ag Sector Council attendance over time. Each year contains 10 to 11 events, with August always serving as a hiatus month. The years can’t be perfectly compared, due to several inclement weather cancellations and other special considerations that boosted attendance. However, the graph makes clear that our audience is increasing, and that the webinar experience is valued.
Going forward, we plan to hold two to three Ag Sector Council events each year as webinar-only events to allow a concentrated focus on our online audience. Let us know in the comments below whether you prefer to attend our seminars in person or online!